MARK O’HAIRE (@MarkOHaire) made us more money on the Football League on Saturday. Here’s his take on Wednesday’s contest between Leeds and Nottingham Forest.
Leeds v Nottingham Forest | Wednesday 19:45
The Championship can be an unforgiving battleground at times and Leeds discovered it the hard way during Saturday’s 3-2 derby defeat at Barnsley.
It was United’s first defeat in five weeks when an early red card turned the tide against Garry Monk’s men at Brighton, whilst the Whites’ last loss without complaint came two months ago against Newcastle.
Leeds hadn’t actually been beaten by a side outside the top-two since mid-October and they almost escaped with a point when Kemar Roofe slid a glorious chance wide of a post from point-blank range in injury-time at Oakwell.
Monk, who was again forced to field three right-backs in his back four, blamed defensive weakness for a result which turned on three Barnsley goals in nine minutes either side of half-time.
Defensive crisis easing
Pontus Jansson will return from suspension to strengthen Leeds in that area on Wednesday night with Liam Cooper and Hadi Sacko also expected to recover from injuries in time to bolster the Whites’ squad having missed out on Saturday.
Leeds showed signs of fatigue at Barnsley, particularly playmaker Pablo Hernandez. But Monk will be hoping the extra day’s rest will help to freshen his troops for what’s undoubtedly a tough run of fixtures ahead with five games in 16 days.
I’m not for a second questioning United’s play-off hopes – my ratings make the Whites a top-six side – but having crushed Derby with pace, energy, organisation and skill in their finest performance under Monk a week ago – they did look a little jaded in the final quarter at Oakwell.
If Leeds fans can see the Premier League light once more, Nottingham Forest fans must be sinking further into despair. Dragged down by mediocre results and the antics of their deeply-reluctant owner Fawaz Al-Hasawi, the Tricky Trees are in the midst of a relegation battle and without a full-time manager.
Gary Brazil is back in a caretaker role alongside assistant Jack Lester and temporary coach Robert Page – the trio stuck round pegs in round holes at the weekend and Forest’s more balanced XI picked up a welcome three points against Bristol City thanks to Ben Osborn’s brilliant free-kick.
Philippe Montanier fought a long-running battle with injuries, limiting his options. But Brazil was able to field Daniel Pinillos back at left-back with Eric Lichaj reverting to his favoured right side of defence with Matty Cash moving back into midfield and it worked.
However, the Reds rarely threatened in a fairly lifeless encounter. Brazil’s boys managed only 14 touches inside the Bristol City penalty box and were out-shot 8-5 by the Robins when viewing attempts from inside the penalty box.
Forest tend to toil on their travels – the visitors have been beaten in nine of their 14 road trips already this term, including all six and at the current top-seven. In 11 of those away days, the Tricky Trees have shipped at least two goals and they’re without skipper Matt Mills here.
More recently, the guests have W1-D1-L3 in five away fixtures but their shot ratio return across that sample is worryingly terrible 29.41% as they’ve been out-shot 35-84 and 21-51 when only counting efforts at goal in the box.
Forest are unbeaten in eight meetings with Leeds but their season-long Championship rating this term is 15th by my records and I find it hard not to oppose the Tricky Trees at Elland Road here.
Two angles of attack
Leeds are a very backable 4/5 (BetVictor) but I’m going to try and squeeze a bit more out of that price by chucking Under 3.5 Goals into the equation at 31/20 (BetStars) – it’s a selection that would cover the 1-0, 2-0, 3-0 or 2-1 correct scores.
The hosts have won nine of their last 11 Elland Road encounters, including each of their past five ‘to nil’. Seven of United’s past eight home games have featured fewer than three goals as well as 17/27 (63%) overall – none of their 14 fixtures in front of their home supporters have broken the Over 3.5 Goals line.
I’m also going to have a nibble on the 7/4 (SkyBet) on Leeds to win and Chris Wood to score. The hardworking New Zealander took his tally for the season to 19 with two efforts in the Barnsley loss, converting a close-range finish in the first half and a penalty later in the game.
Wood has found the back of the net in 17/30 (57%) appearances in 2016/17, notching 12 (63%) of his 19 goals at Elland Road. The Leeds hitman benefits from being the nominated penalty taker, is a major threat from Pablo Hernandez’s set-pieces and has already scored in 11 (73%) of 15 Elland Road outings this term.
Leeds v Nottingham Forest – Leeds to win and Under 3.5 Goals (31/20 BetStars)
Leeds v Nottingham Forest – Leeds to win and Chris Wood to score (7/4 SkyBet)